I feel like we’ve all had a love-hate relationship with the concept of productivity since Covid hit. I’ll be the first to say I struggled immensely with this. I would work off of massive to-do lists filled with the tiniest, useless tasks (I would even add tasks I’d already finished just so I could cross them off quickly). I also have a terrible habit of procrastinating on things I want to do. Also is it just me or the more you push it off, the more daunting it becomes? Anyways, I’d end up working late at night, during the weekends or moving appointments to catch up on work.
Then I decided to run my own business and I had to completely change my view of productivity. Because from one day to the next, I didn’t have someone looking over my shoulder to see how many items I crossed off my list. Or evaluating my performance based on how much I seemed to do (or how relevant those things were to moving my work or the business forward).
So the question remains, what does productivity mean and how can you be more productive in your own business?
What does productivity even mean?
I used to focus on how efficient I could be (hence the MASSIVE to-do lists of useless tasks). The reality is that most days, I was discouraged by this long list. Like I would never reach a point where I was done. Let’s be real – there will always be a “one more thing” you can in your business: an email to answer, a project to start, research to dive into. We’ll dive into how to handle that in a minute but for now, let’s just focus on the fact that 90% of the items on that list were just there to make it look productive.
Additionally, my work focuses on systems and operations where one of my goals is to make processes as efficient as possible and to build systems based on my clients.
I had to learn what productivity really means both for my sake and for the work I do.
This is the definition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
“Effective in bringing about” meaning we produce “a decided, decisive or desired effect“. Therefore, we aren’t being productive if we aren’t moving in the right direction.
It’s not about how much you do more than WHAT you do and WHY.
This fact alone took me a few weeks to accept and integrate. My whole life I was conditioned to getting as much done as possible. My worth was tied to how many things were crossed off my to-do list. If I spent hours working, no matter what I was working ON, I’d had a good day.
Anyone who’s worked a 9-5 will confirm that that’s how a lot of workplace/managers/bosses look at it too. Except now I was my own boss.
Back to being productive. In order to be productive, I had to focus my time and energy on the things that were actual priorities and figure out where they’d fit. What things would actually move the needle in my work?
In addition to this radical change of perspective came the HOW I would do this work. Because no one was there to tell me when and how to work anymore. This turned out to be both a blessing and a massive challenge. I had to create my own framework, set my own boundaries, find and set up the tools that would truly bring the best in me and support my weaknesses (like my tendency to procrastinate). This is also true for the people I work with and the clients I help.
I thought I would share here some of the results and resources that helped me in my journey to being more productive and increasing the impact me and my clients have on our businesses.
Know yourself (make it personalized)
We’re all different and some things that work great for others might not work for us. There are a few ways you might want to personalize your work, schedule or environment to really help support you!
Tailor your sleep, focus time and training based on what you naturally prefer. One way to find out what your body prefers is by learning about your circadian rhythm or your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. These are categorized into 4 chronotypes and you can find out which is yours by doing this quiz created by Dr. Michael Breus.
My chronotype is the Bear (like the majority of the population!). My sleep schedule fits the typical 9-5 work hours so I’ve tailored my schedule to loosely follow this structure:
- Wake up between 7-7:30
- Slow morning routine where I read, meditate, plan my day, do my daily gratitude and have my smoothie
- Have the bulk of my work in the middle of the day
- Start my evening routine around 9PM and read until about 10PM when it’s time for bed!
I highly recommend it to help you figure out what kind of schedule works best for you – click here to access the test.
Additional fun fact I learned from Dr. Breus – the first thing you should do in the morning is drink water to rehydrate yourself and your coffee should wait for about 1.5h after waking.
This might come across as controversial advice but I often recommend my clients find out about their enneagram type. Just like the chronotype, this isn’t a be-all-end-all framework. The goal of this practice isn’t to “put you in a box” more to allow you to find out more about yourself.
Finding my enneagram was key to building systems that fit me! I know the kind of tasks I tend to procrastinate, what slows me down, what gets me distracted. I created systems that would emphasize my strengths all the while supporting my weaknesses. For instance, I get super easily distracted and I WILL jump from one thing to another without finishing the first. I’ve set up a few things to help with this, including a brain dump list and turning off my email and social media notifications (and setting up time blocks for them instead – more on these in a moment).
Additionally, I don’t start the day with my worst/hardest task of the day. I do the opposite and start with systems work which gets me really excited to work. The hard stuff can come later (and it’s probably time blocked so I don’t just skip it). I recommend the RHETI test ($12USD) but you can find free albeit less accurate tests out there.
Lastly just keep in mind that you burning out from working like crazy in a business that doesn’t make you happy serves no one. Not even you or your clients. So really, do yourself a favour and take time to figure out what works. No one else makes the rules here so you might as well create ones that support you doing your best work.
This brings me to my next point!
Systems & Framworks
To bring structure to your work and your day.
Brain Dump List
This is one of those tiny changes with a huge impact. It’s the easiest thing – it’s a list where you write down everything that comes to mind that ISN’T RELATED to your current task. Remember when I said I would jump from thing to thing? Part of what drove me to do this was because I was afraid of forgetting that next thing. Now I write it down!
This list will have just about anything on it, ideas for content creation, ideas for new offers or something I need to change on my website/social media. BUT it is now pen to paper and I can go back to my current work without worrying I’ll forget it!
This tip gets bonus points just because of how easy it is AND when you realize it takes the average person about 20 minutes to really focus on something (and that’s energy that doesn’t get used to actually DO the task).
I resisted this one for the LONGEST time. Because just like the name says, I thought I would feel boxed in my work. Turns out once I implemented it, I experienced quite the opposite:
- I procrastinate less because this is THE time for me to perform a certain type of work. Plus, I know I have blocks for the more fun stuff coming up!
- I don’t scramble as much with everything I need to do since I know there’s a block for that in my week.
- I feel more confident scheduling client working knowing my own business will keep going. Plus I can see exactly how many hours I can put on a certain day or week to this project and give an accurate time frame for these projects.
For more information on how to get started, read below my section on Task Inventory!
Pick Your Priorities
It’s not because you work in blocks that you can’t have priorities! I set mine based on the blocks I have for this day. Is it a Marketing/Content Creation day? Then my priorities will probably be to write content, make creatives and film Reels and Tiktoks. On a Systems day, I’ll probably have time to work on my projects and do some client work. Either way, I ditched the endless to-do list and choose 3 priorities which I write down in my planner. I also set up my planner to include what BIG GOAL these priorities are related to (just for extra motivation to do the stuff I don’t really like 😅). Click here to see the planner.
Clean up/Get organized
I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise 😅 but I thought I would include it nonetheless. Not only will you save time because your documents and contact information are where they should be BUT having a clean and organized space has also been shown to increase productivity (click here to read more on the topic). Therefore, keeping your living space and work area clean and organized is recommended. I won’t dive into tools and programs but centralizing your operations to only use a handful of tools every day is a great place to start as is choosing 1 location for each type of information you have (ie client communication, client information, payments/invoices, proposals and contracts, images for social media, etc.).
Over the course of 2 or 3 days, write down EVERYTHING you do. I know this might seem a big ask but we want to make sure we’re not missing anything! The real work begins once we have this list. The first step is to categorize each item according to the following:
- Delegate (if you can!)
- Everything else
I won’t go into specifics about how to automate things, that’s quite a bit in and of itself but hopefully pointing out what SHOULD be automated will get you started in the right direction. Additionally, I understand that not everyone is in a position to delegate tasks. Keep in mind this doesn’t have to involve hiring someone full-time to work with you, virtual assistants are happy to do a few hours every week. If this still isn’t an option, you’ll know what you can take off your plate once you reach that point.
Then there’s everything else. You’ll probably see sub-categories within such as admin work, content creation, deep work (aka the work you do when you perform the service you sell or develop your products), etc. This will determine what kind of blocks you should include in your week! I also added blocks of “Chaos time” for last-minute things or catching up tasks I didn’t finish. You can find the snapshot in the time blocking section above.
Change your environment
We briefly touched on this above but you know what works best for you and what helps you focus. Ultimately, whatever helps you do your best work is the way to go.
We already talked about having a decluttered workspace but I also recommend elements that you love and will make you excited about being in your workspace. These could be plants (my personal favourite), special lights (bonus points for being cute), shelves and books or picture frames, whatever floats your boat! If you are happy and excited to be in your workspace, it will show in your work (and make going to work less of a chore).
Additionally, try to have your desk facing something else than just a wall. However, facing the room makes your workspace more spacious and less cramped (and that’s apparently a feng shui thing?).
This one is definitely a matter of personal preference. I’ll just add that whatever helps YOU focus is definitely worth setting up properly (ie good headphones/speakers if you work with music or something to block out the sound if silence is more your thing).
I’m personally not a “complete silence” person so most of my resources are for the other folks out there:
- If you miss working in cafes, this website lets you play cafe background noise and adjust them to your liking
- Music with 60-70 beats per minute is best to promote focus. You can find playlists of different genres that fit this criterion on Spotify
- Binaural beats can have different frequencies which will help promote different brain waves. Gamma frequencies are best for focus and studying (and you can find out more about this by clicking here). Spotify also has playlists for this type of music.
Hopefully, you found a tip or 2 to help you be more productive! The key with all these tips is to get to know what works best for you! Productivity is one of the cornerstones of the work I do with clients and the systems I create to support them and their business. If you aren’t sure what would work for you or how to implement it, book a chat!